This site provides suggestions on how to manage or reduce the workload associated with one's teaching responsibilities, and is intended primarily for beginning instructors at the post-secondary level.
Although successful teaching requires passion and commitment, due consideration needs to be given to placing limits on how much time and energy may be devoted to teaching. Otherwise, tenure-track candidates risk focusing on the immediate and continuing demands of teaching to the detriment of their research program, or succumb to a workaholism that threatens their family relationships, health, and well being.
Similarly, academic teaching staff (i.e., non-tenure track faculty without research responsibilities) must avoid burnout by ensuring that they too are strategic in approaching their teaching responsibilities. There can be no output without input, so establishing an appropriate work/life balance is vital for long-range sustainability. This site suggests ways to work smarter, not harder, in becoming a successful university or college instructor.
DO NOT volunteer to develop more new courses than
áEach new course requires an inordinate amount of time to
áEach course in one's
repertoire requires a significant investment to keep up to date; the more
courses in one's repertoire the more time must be devoted to teaching
preparation (or the more thinly the time allocated for teaching preparation is
going to be spread)
áThe more courses in
one's teaching rotation, the longer it takes to refine each course to achieve a
quality product and peak efficiency
áThe more courses one
takes on, the more likely some course topics will fall outside one's core
expertise; courses not directly connected to one's own research require extra
reading and effort to develop and maintain; peak efficiency is achieved when
reading for class overlaps with one's research reading
áWherever possible, teach
multiple sections of the same
course in a term rather then take on several different courses; three courses
require three preparations, but three sections of the same course require only
DO NOT reinvent the wheel
áBuild on the course
outlines, custom learning resources (i.e., readers), text choices, and lesson
plans of predecessors and willing colleagues – even if one rejects 85% of
their approach, starting from something and building on it (or reacting against
it) is significantly faster than starting from scratch (Naturally, one must be
prepared to reciprocate by providing corresponding access to any materials one
design around an acceptable text, supplementing the design with one's own
ideas, readings, and research; assign a different text for students. This provides an
alternative viewpoint and eliminates the redundancy of students reading
material one intends to deliver in class.
áUse Google Advanced
search (the "format" button) to locate relevant PowerPoint slides or
presentations; adapt and incorporate into one's own, giving credit for
content/images in 8 point type (so as not to distract students from slide
content) in lower right hand corner of slide; track detailed source information
in slide notes for future reference.
áWhere applicable, use
Google image, Flickr, Photobucket etc., to locate relevant images; use Google
Video, YouTube or Videojug to locate relevant videos; where feasible, make producing
such videos for uploading to YouTube or Videojug a class project or group assignment to
increase resource base
áAlways take a few minutes to debrief yourself immediately after each class, recording any problems or
inspirations for next time: record interesting student questions, input, and
examples to incorporate in future versions of the course; keep track of timings
so that future classes do not end mid-concept; keep track of test and
assignment results so that assessments may be better focused next time. Such
simple debriefing can significantly reduce future prep time and enhance course
quality. Word-process everything so that revisions and updates may be made with
a minimum of fuss.
áIncorporate one's own
research/reading into class whenever appropriate: students appreciate hearing
from the cutting edge; and time devoted to research also serves as class
DO make full use of course outlines
áSet out as much
information as possible in the course outline – the extra planning
required will be more than offset by the very significant savings in dealing
with students throughout the term. See Getting the Most of Out Course Outlines
DO make everything count twice: recycle teaching as research
lessons as in-service workshops, public lectures, or conference presentations;
(and recycle successful workshops, public lectures and conference presentations
as class lectures)
courses as text books, CDs, web modules, or other published products
áWrite up any innovative
course design, teaching technique, etc., for both the teaching journal related
to one's field and/or the journal devoted to that technique (e.g., if
experimenting with web-based assignment in a sociology course, submit to The
Sociology Teacher, and Instructional
Technology). Present at the Society
for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education conference.
(a checklist of all materials
required for that day's class: overheads; class handouts; maps, charts, or
other visual aids; videos; lab equipment; PowerPoint slides; and so on –
tells you at a glance what is needed before leaving office for class)
paper proposals due this class
(a checklist of anything to be collected from students today)
8 in Wotherspoon text due today
(list of readings students were to have prepared for today)
(assignment to be announced this class, either for first time or as a
9 in Wotherspoon; chapter 1 in
(similarly, assigned readings to be announced in class
– always remind students of readings in class, even when clearly listed
in course outline.)
chpt8, Class Warfare chapter 1, appendix 4,
paper by Livingstone, the old Henderson text, the study I did in '06
(list source material for lesson content – checks how
dated material is, allows for quick fact checking if students ask something one
needs to look up, and eliminates time wasting search for citations when one
eventually gets around to writing one's own textbook for the course.
Use body of lesson for speaker notes; include sufficient detail as needed to remember lesson following year (e.g., don't put "tell story from the news yesterday" because you won't remember what that refers to two years from now when next called on to teach this course.). Debrief after each
class to incorporate revisions that occur to you as a result of current class,
in preparation for next year....
Last time we talked
about X and Y.In today's class
I'd like to extend that discussion by talking about Z, and would like to make
three basic arguments:
(Use the introduction to
reconnect students to previous lesson/material; or do something to capture
student attention/ enthusiasm; or start by asking if there are any questions
left from last time or from the readings; then state what today's lesson is
Topic #1: Stakeholder Analysis
(and so on, with the rest
of the lesson.
When using PowerPoint or
other teaching aids, some instructors find it useful to note where particular
slides, videos, etc. fall within the lesson plan. Of course, it is important to
avoid reading out from either the slides or the lesson plan itself! )
Thus it can be seen that arguments 1 and
2 fail the analysis and only point 3 can be considered valid using this
It's nice when the lesson
is brought to some sort of conclusion, rather than just stops because the
period has ended. However, timing is often difficult to gage and is usually the
last aspect of teaching to fall into place. Always have next class' lesson plan
prepared and on hand in case usable time remains in the period; alternatively,
some instructors include an optional "sponge" activity in their
lesson plan – an optional extra activity flexible enough to use up any
extra time should there be any, but expendable if the class runs over.
DO post office hours
student access to official office hours; otherwise students will come to assume
24/7 access, continually interrupting and preventing one from completing other
áSchedule office hours at
8AM to cut down on frivolous visits; schedule hours on days from different
class schedules (e.g., Monday and Tuesday, rather than the same class time
slots on Monday and Wednesday) to increase probability that students will not
have other classes during one's scheduled office hours. Where (and only where)
students can demonstrate that they have classes during those hours, allow them
to book an appointment at another specified time.
áExtended hours may be
provided during peak periods, such as just before major assignments are due, or
just after they have been returned.
office hours by dividing 40 hour work week by % of time to be devoted to teaching,
research, and service; divide teaching time into class time (fixed),
preparation (usually 1/1 for class time), marking (will vary depending whether
multiple choice, essay or other), and advising; limit total office hours to %
available to advising, and distribute over the semester
áStudent phone calls and
email should be accepted and replied to only during official office hours;
state in the course outline that "every attempt will be made to return calls
and emails within three working days"; otherwise students will expect
instantaneous turnaround, email access on evenings and weekends, and may be
encouraged to email frivolous requests. (Pedagogically, 24/7 access is unsound
because it encourages dependence rather than developing student independence.)
Urge colleagues to adopt consistent email access policy across department so
students recognize that this as the norm.
DO delegate reception
duties to support staff or Entourage
faculty resources allow, direct students to turn in/pick up assignments through
receptionists rather than to one's office; otherwise a stream of well meaning
students will constantly interrupt one's concentration on other work as each
pauses briefly to chat.
some instructors find it convenient to accept assignments by email or WebCT
assignment box –the assignments come in date stamped, feedback can be
provided through Word comment function ("Track Changes" under "Tools" menu),
and returned to students by email without the potential distraction of a constant
stream of students coming to one's office.
áTrain students to
include the course number in email subject line; program Entourage ("Rules"
under "Tools" menu) to automatically route all course-related email to course
mail folder, where it can wait until office hours. This also eliminates danger
of student emails being overlooked in the flood of other email one typically
receives each day.
DO NOT volunteer to teach overload or extra summer
taxes, overload/summer classes generally do not pay well enough to be
worthwhile – such projects should only be undertaken if they provide
professional development; e.g., teaching on another campus, or developing a new
course one needs on one's CV. Time spent repeatedly re-teaching the same course
on overload could be more profitably invested in writing a textbook (more cash
in long term and another line on one's CV), or developing one's research, or
having a life.
DO use multiple-choice tests in large classes one
expects to teach again
áMany instructors deny
themselves the convenience of multiple-choice (mc) tests because they believe
mc questions are inherently inappropriate to their discipline, or that
multiple-choice can only test rote memorization. This is not the case. For most
knowledge objectives, well-constructed mc questions are generally more valid
and reliable measures of student achievement than essay questions; and when
properly constructed, can test the highest levels of Bloom's taxonomy.
Practically every course has some knowledge component for which mc testing
would be appropriate. To the extent that one can measure that portion of the
course with mc tests, one should include them (though 'best practice' would
arguably include more than just mc
items). For instruction on how to construct better mc tests or to test higher
level thinking, see http://www.uleth.ca/edu/runte/tests/multiplechoicetests.html.
are easy to grade, but time consuming to write well,so are best suited to large classes one expects to
teach for several years; for small classes one is only going to teach once or
twice, essay tests are more efficient.
áThe hours required to
develop good mc questions can be amortized over several test administrations by
reusing the questions over several years.Therefore, do not allow question booklets to leave the room.2
áWriting two or three
multiple-choice questions for each class as it is taught automatically
generates a 25 or 50 item mc test by the end of the semester, and automatically
ensures a representative sample of course material.(Choosing what to test for each class also serves as a quick
check on the relevance of the day's content; i.e., if you cannot think of a
question to ask today, why are you teaching this?)
DO develop clear rubrics for evaluation of written
response tests and assignments
áTime required for essay
marking can be considerably reduced through the use of explicit and specific
rubrics. (See "developing scoring rubrics" at http://www.uleth.ca/edu/runte/tests/essaytests.html.) In some subjects, a single rubric can be
applied to all written assignments; this greatly increases both speed and reliability
of grading (as the marker internalizes the rubric through repeated use).
áGiven sufficiently clear
scoring schemes one may delegate marking responsibilities to assistants,
reducing one's own marking time to the role of "court of appeals".
DO restrict marker
comments to useful feedback
áMany instructors waste
time circling every typo, spelling mistake, grammatical error, and formatting
violation in a student's paper; this is not only a waste of valuable marking
time, but the resulting sea of red ink is both prejudicial to objective
evaluation of other aspects of the paper, and over-whelmingly demoralizing to
students. Choose instead a single page to mark up to demonstrate the problem,
and then check off"problems with
written mechanics" or "formatting errors" on the rubric. This makes
the relevant point without overwhelming the student or consuming inordinate
amounts of marker energy.
comments to the two or three most serious weaknesses in the paper. Providing
negative feedback on all aspects of the assignment at once demoralizes
students, distracts students from correctly identifying their most urgent
priorities, and consumes marker time unnecessarily. Students can address only
two or three issues at a time when seeking to improve for the next assignment,
so providing more detailed feedback is counter productive for both marker and student. As students fix their most egregious
problems, their grades will improve correspondingly, and attention may now
productively be turned to the next two or three most serious weaknesses, until
eventually, only minor problems remain.
áInclude as many positive
comments as negative. Students often need to have their strengths identified
for them so that they may repeat and build on these successful elements.
Appropriate positive feedback will encourage students to seek out, read, and
attend to all marker comments, thus ensuring one's efforts have not been in
vain. (Faced with only negative comments, many students will simply note the
grade and discard the returned paper, comments unread.) Besides being good
pedagogy, this approach will also save time and energy otherwise required to
deal with hostile students.
áOne technique to reduce
marker workload is to set two assignment deadlines: Assignments handed in by
the first deadline are guaranteed written feedback. Assignments handed in by
the second, later deadline are accepted and graded, but forfeit written
feedback. Many students will avail themselves of the later deadline.
DO take student input
evaluations carefully for ways to increase teaching effectiveness; e.g., if a
number of students comment on "too many PowerPoint slides", cut down on the use
of PowerPoint. Effective teaching is most efficient use of one's time because
it eliminates need to address problems that otherwise arise.
áFocus on the
majority/consensus comments; beginning instructors may become preoccupied with
the one or two negative comments among an otherwise positive class response,
and completely overhaul their course in a misguided attempt to eliminate these
outriders. Unless respondents have identified specific, easily remedied
problems, redesigning the course is as likely to upset the previously satisfied
majority, as it is to eliminate all negative comment. An overhaul is only
indicated when consensus is negative, or where particular population identifies
that it has been disadvantaged (e.g., complaints of biased content,
instructional strategies, etc.).
áWhere there is wide disagreement
among respondents (e.g., "lectures too much"/ "great lectures!"), recognize
that students come with a variety of learning styles and that what works for
one student may not work for another. Build on strengths identified by positive
comments, and attempt to mitigate fallout from negative comments by broadening
teaching strategies to accommodate learning style(s) not currently addressed
(e.g., follow great lecture with small group discussion).
áWhere negative student
comments appear inaccurate or wrong-headed, recognize that students are not
always able to accurately articulate their actual concern. Examine such
comments closely to see if they can be translated into something useful. E.g.,
student complaints that instructor "tested on stuff never taught us" may
translate as "didn't realize test included material from course readings";
concern is then addressed by explicitly noting in course outline and at the
beginning of each class which readings are due and included on the next test.
áWhere course evaluations
identify as concerns features of the course design that the instructor feels
strongly are of fundamental importance, these concerns may be pre-emptively
addressed in subsequent course outlines. E.g., if complaint is that readings
are "too old", use course outline to explain concept of "seminal work"; if
complaint is there is "too much reading", state in the course outline why these
25 articles are bare minimum required to cover the field. Students will
generally accept instructor's rationales when these are made transparent. See http://people.uleth.ca/~runte/outlines/sampman.htm
for more detailed examples.
DO take advantage of
teaching development resources
means teaching effectively; effective teaching requires keeping up with the
current research on teaching. No professor would consider submitting a research
paper without including a literature review, or with references that were all
20 years old, but many appear content to ignore the vast research on effective
post-secondary instruction and to continue to rely on methods inherited from
the 1890s. Instructors need to bring the same intellectual rigor to their teaching
as they do to the research portion of their jobs; failure to keep up with (and
contribute to) the research literature on post-secondary instruction is an
abdication of responsibility for 40% of one's workload.
áKeeping up with
developments in research on teaching (and on the changing nature of student
body, e.g., understanding needs of digital generation) can become needlessly
time consuming unless managed efficiently. Managing efficiently means
identifying professional development resources that compile the latest research
on "best practice" without having to wade through the primary sources
áAttend the annual
conference of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education
(STLHE). STLHE conference presentations consistently demonstrate a variety of
effective teaching ideas that can be immediately incorporated into one's own
classroom. (A secondary benefit is the motivational boost of associating with
other Canadian university instructors committed to effective teaching.) STLHE
Green Guides (e.g., on lecturing to large classes, on managing inquiry, etc.)
are also excellent resources.
áAttend Teaching and
Learning Center workshops; if currently offered workshops do not seem to meet
one's immediate needs, ask for the needed workshop to be developed.
áIdentify effective and
efficient teachers in your area and ask to visit their classes; ask peers to
visit your class and offer a (confidential) critique. Borrow effective teaching
techniques from successful colleagues, but always adapt these to fit one's own
course content, student demographics, and personal teaching style. Experiment
with others' styles, but be prepared to reject those that do not prove
effective (efficient) for particular content, student demographics, or personal
áUse student course
evaluations and confidential peer feedback to identify areas of strength and
weakness in one's teaching. Select one area to develop each semester and read
one secondary text on that topic; ask to visit the classrooms of those who have
mastered targeted area; experiment.
1The inclusion of
additional elements in the lesson plan (such as a section on evaluation or hands-on
activities) may be recommended for 'best practice' pedagogically; the focus
here is strictly on minimum required to maximize efficiency.
2If concerned with keeping
mc exams secure, try numbering pairs of examination booklets and answer sheets
sequentially (i.e., same number on both question booklet and answer sheet) and
sorting the sets immediately after collecting the exams: gaps representing
missing papers will be immediately apparent and the culprit identified on the
answer sheet corresponding to the missing booklet.